On Friday night, Bill Maher told his HBO audience that volunteers in StopRush, the advertiser divestment campaign spawned by Rush Limbaugh’s disgusting three-day rant against Sandra Fluke, were not being “proper liberal(s).” There are many reasons why this is hilarious, but not in the way that Maher supposes. In fact, the joke’s on him, and I’m still laughing at Maher this morning.
The first reason Maher is so funny: nine out of ten social media debates about StopRush involve an accusation of hypocrisy because the social media movement doesn’t organize to get Bill Maher fired by his cable bosses instead of contacting Limbaugh’s advertisers. After all, Maher’s got a long history of misogynistic and reactionary comments. Between the right wing conservatives who think “proper liberals” ought to despise Maher, and Maher’s notion that “proper liberals” ought to stop contacting Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers, there is no room for the actual liberals to set their own course that is free of bigotry. See how that inevitably defaults to the silencing of liberals and the promotion of the worst kinds of speech?
Which brings me to the second reason that the ever-dickish Maher is unintentionally funny: he’s never been much of a liberal. He’s actually been a libertarian for most of his career — one who doesn’t seem to understand how free speech works.
How dare you speak to the corporate-persons!
Let’s recap. As an American, I am allowed to speak to a corporate sponsor about any show on which their ads appear. The day that we suspend this right, America will not turn into a glorious liberal paradise, it will rather become a pathetic fascism — a place where corporations are not just people, but very special people who cannot be addressed by the flesh-and-blood ‘lesser mortals’ to whom America’s founding fathers actually intended the Constitution would apply.
Freedom, as Maher points out, requires that you tolerate those with opinions you don’t like, but he doesn’t seem to tolerate the views of StopRush very well. Their view is that companies which want to attract business from decent Americans shouldn’t sponsor the hate speech, smears, and dangerous gobbledygook that pours from Limbaugh’s pie-hole every weekday. Limbaugh is free to say whatever he wants, but he has no ‘right’ to corporate sponsorship for saying it. That is not how freedom works.
Maher is free to disagree, of course. Maybe he thinks that, say, the white supremacist Stormfront website should be able to attract major advertisers, and that no one should ever be able to say anything to those advertisers about their support of hate speech. In fact, that’s basically what he’s been saying about StopRush since it began: that liberals should just let Rush Limbaugh enjoy all the benefits of our capitalist media system without facing any of the potential consequences built into that system. It’s actually quite un-American.
To date, the consequences for Limbaugh are that almost all of the top radio advertisers specifically don’t want their ads on his show. Thousands of companies have withdrawn their commercials. For the last year, StopRush has been reduced to contacting Public Service Announcement (PSA) advertisers because there are so few paying customers left. Most advertisers we contact had no idea their ads were running on Limbaugh and voluntarily move to have them pulled. Indeed, just last week, one of the StopRush monitors in Detroit noticed only one ad spot throughout his entire program — and during one break in that show, the only ad the monitor heard was a commercial for the Rush Limbaugh show.
Rush Limbaugh’s brand has become utterly toxic, and nobody made him do it to himself. StopRush surely helped, but they had other help — in fact, they had an inside man.
Limbaugh’s man made it too easy
Which brings us to the third reason why Maher is hilarious for being wrong: StopRush did not accomplish this on their own. Rush Limbaugh is suffering the consequences of following the terrible, horrible, very bad advice of Brian Glicklich — his friend, professional PR hack, and crisis manager. Remember this tweet from Maher shortly after Limbaugh’s tirade against Fluke?
Hate to defend #RushLimbaugh but he apologized, liberals looking bad not accepting. Also hate intimidation by sponsor pullout
— Bill Maher (@billmaher) March 7, 2012
In fact, Rush Limbaugh did not apologize. He used the word ‘apology’ in a sentence, which is not the same thing as an actual apology. Furthermore, Maher’s “intimidation by sponsor pullout” is a complete inversion of the truth, because Limbaugh was poorly advised by Glicklich, who told him not to apologize to the advertisers or promise good behavior in the future. In fact, Glicklich became actively hostile to lost accounts in an attempt to hold onto the rest of them — a move that actually convinced those advertisers to flee.
But wait, there’s more: as Premiere Radio Network’s Senior VP of Digital Media, Glicklich had created the advertising sales system those companies used to buy airtime on the network, and while he had indicated to all his customers that objectionable content could be easily dropped from ad campaigns, this turned out to be a complete lie. In other words, Limbaugh destroyed his own relationship with his advertisers by following Glicklich’s terrible advice for so many years, and when Glicklich tried to control the damage of his lies through sheer denial and pugnaciousness, it ruined what little was left of Limbaugh’s credibility with the real ‘job creators’ of radio.
Which brings us to the fourth reason why Maher is unintentionally funny: his comments came right after Twitter suspended Brian Glicklich for a third time in one week over his harassment and attempted extortion.
Speaking of ‘intimidation’
When Karoli caught Maher’s comments on Saturday morning, she mentioned that StopRush volunteers have been dealing with criminal misbehavior for three years in reaction to their efforts. During that time, people have been targeted for identity theft, had their names and addresses published with various calls to violence, been stalked and photographed in the real world, had bomb threats called into their workplaces, and worse — all for the ‘crime’ of reading Rush Limbaugh’s own words verbatim to his advertisers and asking them not to support his hate speech.
Given all that activity against them, who exactly is the “baby who can’t stand to live in a world where you hear things that upset you” that Maher should be scolding? Is it the StopRush activist who continues speaking up to advertisers on social media, or Limbaugh’s women-hating listener who constantly tries to intimidate, annoy, or otherwise distract the StopRush activist? If Maher is truly opposed to ‘intimidation,’ then what does he make of Rush Limbaugh’s professional PR hack Brian Glicklich trying to extort me into no longer writing about all this pro-Limbaugh criminality anymore?
In the last several weeks, Glicklich has graduated from lame attempts at ‘naming and shaming’ volunteers to calling them at 2 AM with bizarre demands, publishing their names and addresses, and at least one outright extortion attempt. As a result of these creepy-stalkerish activities, Glicklich’s Twitter account was suspended twice last week, and then again a third time on Friday; it is still suspended, possibly for good. In case I haven’t made things clear, this is a paid professional public relations expert — one who touts his experience and skill at breaking up divestment and boycott campaigns like StopRush, which raises a serious question: how many times has Glicklich committed felonies in the course of his work?
How many victims does he have out there?
And remember, so far the only real victim of StopRush is Limbaugh’s advertising revenue. Glicklich did the website equivalent of filing a restraining order to shut down a news and opinion show — which is something you would expect Maher to condemn.
Censorship is about the soapbox
Maher has a right to his soapbox. Limbaugh also has a right to his soapbox. Advertisers have a right to their soapbox. And StopRush volunteers have the same right. Free speech is preserved all around. But Maher lost a show once on network television when angry viewers called ABC, and he’s understandably still a little sore about it. The rules at the network are analogous to the rules of radio, yet StopRush is not going after Limbaugh in the same way that Maher lost his program.
In the last week, Glicklich has fired off three DMCA takedown attempts — two against this website, and one against my own website — claiming that I’ve infringed his copyright by using his own pictures to write about him. Though he has utterly and miserably failed in his objective, Glicklich has nonetheless made a direct attempt to take away my soapbox, and not by popular demand but by His Sole Command.
That’s actual, real, not-imaginary illiberal behavior, an act of pure censorship. StopRush hasn’t done anything like that to Limbaugh: he’s free to keep talking into a microphone for as long as iHeart Media decides to lose money on him. StopRush doesn’t make demands on radio stations, or the conglomerates which own their signals. The only thing — ONLY thing — that StopRush volunteers care about is convincing as many advertisers as possible not to pay for Rush’s platform. And again, that is their right.
When ABC cancelled Politically Incorrect over the backlash, Maher picked up his soapbox and took it to HBO, where the rules of content are quite different. Maher’s not the only talk personality to leave the regulated world of network television for a safer, more lucrative platform: Glenn Beck, another friend and client of Glicklich who lost a Fox News show due to a successful divestment campaign led by ColorOfChange.org, has become richer than ever as a webcaster. And it’s worth noting that nothing is stopping Limbaugh from taking his show onto satellite radio like Howard Stern did, or from moving onto the internet like Beck, or even from getting his own HBO program. If conservatives want to pay for his voice, let them.
StopRush has the last laugh — because everything that Maher supposedly hates about StopRush is actually true of Limbaugh and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad PR hack.